Chop Suey

One of my favourite ways of preparing vegetables, Chop Suey can be made as healthily as you want, providing you don’t drown the dish in oil.

My wife much prefers my attempt at Chinese cooking as it’s not as ‘greasy’ as the local takeaways, but I must admit I personally think good a restaurant dish is pretty difficult to copy faithfully.

The version here uses, chicken, a lot of veg, and Oyster Sauce. I’m not sure if there is an ‘authentic’ combination in a chop suey, so apologies people of China if not! I recommend using a ‘premium’ Oyster Sauce from a Chinese Deli. It’s a few pounds more, but far richer flavoured than the cheaper supermarket approximations. It’ll last a while if you get a large bottle and keep it in the fridge.

The key to Chinese food seems to be preparation and plenty of heat. Get everything ready so that when you start to cook, you only focus on that.

I’ve had many a tantrum in the kitchen before learning this, I think it has something to do with the panic induced by cooking in a super hot wok. Anyhow:

Serves 3-4


2 chicken breasts thinly sliced (and, if you can, marinated in 2 tbsp rice wine, good pinch 5 spice, soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil for a minimum 20 mins).

1 Tbsp oil (you need more in a steel wok – I’m going for healthy here and used non-stick……)
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
Thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
Vegetables of your choice (Pak choi, carrot, mange tout, onions, bean sprouts etc) – I used tender stem broccoli, sugar-snap peas, onions, baby sweet corn and bamboo shoots, all sliced into bite sized pieces. About a handful of each.
Soy sauce
2 Tbsp Premium Oyster Sauce
About 150ml water mixed with a tsp cornflour
White pepper
2 Spring onions, chopped


Heat the wok and oil until hot and smoking.

Add the chicken (drained well if marinated) and brown well, until cooked through. Take out and set aside, retaining as much oil as possible.

Drop in the onion and garlic and ginger for a minute (don’t burn the garlic, keep it moving!)

Add the vegetables and stir fry for two or three minutes. Stir the chicken back in along with a good splash of soy sauce and the Oyster Sauce. Stir well, turn the heat down then add the cornflour mixture, mixing thoroughly and using more water if too dry. Taste the sauce and adjust as necessary using the soy sauce.

Season with pepper, add the chopped spring onion and serve with boiled rice (or egg fried rice if you’ve fallen off the wagon!). Yum.


Breakfast Royal


A rare thing for me, the time and inclination to have a proper breakfast.

I’m just not a morning person, so very little thought goes into it usually. Smoothie and microwaved porridge I’m shamed to say are the norm.

So today, having the opportunity to be out the office, I popped into Cafe Royal in Newcastle (opposite the Grainger market those who know the city).

I went for the Egg Benedict which were pretty good, but a bit tight on the Hollandaise, and a large coffee as I’m sadly addicted.

Anyway, better sign out and head back to the day job….

Comfort Carrot & Coriander

I know, I know, as soups go it’s a bit of an obvious one, but it’s one of my favourites nonetheless.

Strongly flavoured ingredients combine so well, there’s very little else to do other than simmer and blitz. Simple.

2 tsp oil
2 garlic cloves
1 large onion, sliced
500kg/1lb carrots, chopped roughly
Water or vegetable stock, enough to cover
1tsp ground coriander (not essential)
Good handful of coriander leaves
Salt and Black pepper

Fry the garlic, onions and carrots in a little oil to release the flavours and caramelise the onions a little. Fill with water or stock so the vegetables are covered and add the coriander powder if using.

Simmer very gently for 30 mins.

Blend until smooth using a blender, or a stick blender (as I do to save on dishes to wash but be careful not to scratch your pan!).

Add the coriander leaf and blitz again. Reheat gently if needed, being careful not to let it boil or the coriander flavour will be lost.

Taste and add salt / pepper as needed.

The Broad Chare, Newcastle Upon Tyne


Having spent the last few hours dodging around shoppers doing the zombie walk though department stores, decided it was time for a pit stop. Being pretty chilly we swung by a favourite joint.

The Broad Chare, near Newcastle’s Quayside, is a pub run by the 21 group and therefore has good food as standard along with a range of British, European and American beer.

Particular to this pub are the range of bar snacks on offer: cauliflower fritters, crispy pigs ears, Lindisfarne oysters, pork pies, monkfish cheeks and a 1/4 pint of prawn to name a few.

Top of the pile though are the scotch eggs. Somehow, they come out consistently good with a soft yolk guaranteed. Heaven.

So, it’s little surprise that, feeling a bit indulgent as it’s the weekend, we went for the scotch eggs (along with everyone else sat there it seemed) along with monkfish cheeks for me.

And a pint of ale of course. It is Saturday after all…


Salmon and Ratatouille

I used Salmon again in this sin-free dinner, but this will work with cod, monkfish or any other fish with a delicate flavour.

Ratatouille is one of those rare dishes that’s both great tasting yet healthy. I didn’t have any aubergines so sorry purists, but this worked pretty well. Use good quality tomatoes, it’s worth spending a little more if you can. The flavours are simple and fresh so it important not to over cook anything here.

I wrapped the salmon in prosciutto as it wasn’t the best quality fish and in any case it adds a bit of texture and burst of saltiness.

No carbs in this meal Atkins fans, but garlic sauteed potatoes would work great!


Serves 2


  • 2 salmon fillets
  • 2 slices of prosciutto/Parma Ham


  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 Onion thinly sliced
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 large ripe tomatoes, skinned and quartered (see below)
  • 1 yellow pepper
  • 1 courgette
  • Salt & Patter
  • A little water, as needed.
  • 4 basil leaves roughly chopped

Putting it together:

Preheat the oven to 180°C (Gas 5).

I skinned the salmon first. Wrap it in a slice of prosciutto.

Place is on a tray with a rack in the over for 20 minutes or until just cooked. Done overdo it or it’ll dry out (you can tell when that’s happened as the white residue comes out the sides). Set a timer so you can crack on with the next bit:

Make the ratatouille:

Boil the kettle. Add the boiling water to a medium sized saucepan and put the tomatoes in. Heat gently until the skins split. Remove and leave to cool on a plate.

Empty the pan and wipe dry. Add 2 tsp olive oil and fry the onion and garlic until soft (a couple of minutes)

Whilst this happening, peel the skin from the tomatoes (they should be cooler by now) and quarter, keeping the juice

Add the peppers, and continue to fry for a few minutes. Then, add the tomatoes, and a good pinch of salt. Stir before layering the courgette on top. Bring to a boil (adding extra water if needed) reduce to low heat, whack a lid on and leave for 5 minutes.

Take the lid off for another 5 minutes to reduce the sauce, or longer if needed. You can keep the salmon warm if done already.

When thickened, taste and add salt/pepper as needed, and stir in the chopped basil leaves.

Serve it up with the salmon.

Next time, I’ll make sure I get the aubergines!

Guest dessert alert!

Banoffee Pie

My mate Vic makes some great desserts. I’m not normally a pudding person, but I love this sort of thing!

Banoffee Pie is a British invention, I was surprised to find out, but less surprisingly it’s based on an American dessert. Either way it combines biscuits, toffee, banana and cream  which combine just great.

Anyway, recipe à la Vic:

For the base:

  • 100g butter, melted
  • 1 generous teaspoon of honey or golden syrup
  • 300g digestive biscuits (or hob-nobs), crushed

For the caramel:

  • 100g butter
  • 100g light Muscovado sugar
  • 1 generous teaspoon of black treacle
  • 400g can of condensed milk

For the top:

  • 4 small bananas, peeled and sliced (ripe bananas that have a few brown spots are the best)
  • 2 x 300ml cartons double cream, whipped until you can spread it with a spatula
  • Grated dark chocolate

You will also need…

20cm loose-bottomed cake tin, greased (or use a non stick tin).

Tip the crushed biscuits (Digestives work really well, but for a more crunchy, oatier base I find hob-nobs are much better) into a bowl and add the melted butter, then add the honey or golden syrup and give it a good stir. Spoon the crumbs into the base evenly then press it down firmly with a round bottomed cup or use the back of a wooden spoon. Chill for 10 minutes.

A lot of people suggest boiling the condensed milk in the can for about an hour or two, but for me this is just a faff on, and the results are more or less the same. Melt the butter and sugar into a non-stick saucepan over a low heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved, add the treacle and continue stirring until you get a thick dark paste. Pour in the condensed milk and turn up the heat all the while stirring with a wooden spoon. As soon as the caramel starts to bubble remove from the heat and spread the caramel over the biscuit base let it cool for about 10-15 minutes.

While the base still has some heat left in it, layer the sliced banana over the caramel until it is completely covered then spoon on the whipped cream and cover the bananas. Lastly liberally sprinkle the grated chocolate over the cream.

Place in the fridge and chill for about an hour, alternatively get the forks out and scoff while it’s still warm…!

Mutton & Spinach Madras


No wait, come back!

Mutton is rarely used or available but is great in a slow cooked curry. I got it at the Wallington food festival from a company called Greenbrae, If you can’t get it, lamb or beef will work as a substitute.

Being a work night, I’ve taken a slight shortcut with the spices, using a shop bought madras powder instead of roasting & grinding my own.

The result was very rich so I added spinach to lighten it up. I served it with plain basmati (that’s all it needs).

2 Tbsp oil
300g of diced mutton
3 garlic cloves and 1 large chilli, finely chopped.
1 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 large onion, chopped
2 tbsp madras curry power
1 tsp turmeric
500ml chicken or beef stock
1 Tbsp tomato purée
1 tsp sugar (if needed)
4 handfuls of spinach
Handful Chopped coriander leaves

In a large saucepan or hob proof casserole pot, fry the mutton in half the oil with a good pinch of salt. Don’t overcrowd it or the meat will ‘boil’ rather than colour. If it does, turn up the heat and evaporate it off.

Add the onion towards the end to soften a little.

Meanwhile in a small sauce pan heat the rest of the oil and add the garlic, chilli and ginger. Fry gently for a few minutes. Add the curry power and dry fry it for a minute (it’ll soak up the oil) then add a little water to make a paste. Simmer for a bit and add to the meat. It should smell very fragrant.

Scrape the spice mix into the pot with the mutton and add the stock, the tomato purée and turmeric and simmer with the lid on gently for 30-40 mins hour then with the lid off for 20 mins to reduce and thicken. Taste and add the sugar to balance the flavours if needed (I did).

Meanwhile whilst waiting….put the spinach in a pan with a little water, put the lid on and bring to a gentle boil to wilt. Stir, strain it and squeeze it to remove the water, chop and set aside

Put the kettle on and rinse the same pan out (to cut down on the washing up!!). Add 50g rice per person and a good pinch of salt. Add enough boiled water to cover by a cm or two, put a lid on and bring back to the boil, then turn down to a simmer on it’s lowest heat for 15 mins or until all the water is absorbed.

Add the spinach to the curry at the end to warm through then the coriander leaf just before serving.

Wallington Hall

We nipped over to the Wallington Hall Food and Craft fair on Saturday. I was pleased to see the popularity of these events remains strong.

I really enjoyed chatting to some of the producers who’ve gone out on a limb and set up in business or changed their structure to sell direct to the public. was one, who specialise in organic free range produce (and probable source of the Xmas turkey this year) as do, who specialised in the small Dexter cattle breed and organic deer. Another was selling Alpaca meat which was a first for me. Might leave that for another day though….

There were many others though and I signed up for @tastenortheast information who supplied with the names of plenty of regional producers I was unaware of.

The chocolate and cake stalls were popular as ever, we got some salted rocky road which was delicious, and I couldn’t leave without buying the obligatory chilli sauce that will sit at the back of the cupboard with the rest.

Shame the ‘food court’ comprised three ‘Divine’ branded vans, a large catering chain. The food, invariably, doesn’t live up to it’s ambitious name and it’s a pity smaller independent caterers weren’t there.

Still, it was a nice day out. It’s Durham Food Festival next week, and more chilli sauce for me no doubt……

Sorry Lancs!

Tonight was a hotpot, but not the version made famous by the Lancastrians.

Vension is becoming easily available nowdays and I used it in this alternative version along with a quick pickled red cabbage. Fab.

  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 thinly sliced large red onion
  • 2 sliced garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves, and a tsp each of chopped thyme and rosemary
  • 300g diced venison
  • 2 chopped carrots or 2 large handfuls of chantenay carrot, cleaned
  • 4 fist sized maris piper (or similar) potatoes.
  • 2 glasses of red wine
  • Beef stock (enough to cover)
  • Good ‘lug’ of Worcestershire Sauce.
  • Cornflour paste made from 1 tsp cornflour to 2 tsp water

For the pickled cabbage.

  • Half a red cabbage
  • 50ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • salt
  • Water to cover

Heat the oven to 180°c (gas 4).

I used a cast iron casserole pot for this, as it’s hob-proof. If not, you’ll need to do the frying separately.

Heat the oil in the pot and brown the venison (in two batches if necessary), remove with a slotted spoon and set aside (leaving the oil in the pan). Add the onions and garlic and fry until softened.

Return the meat and add the wine (use it to deglaze the pan), the carrots and the herbs. Top up with stock to just cover. Stir in a generous lug of Worcestershire Sauce (it’s practically the law) and a Tbsp of the cornflour mixture.

Slice the potatoes fairly thinly (no need to peel, but clean well if you don’t) and place on top in two-three layers.

Put the lid on and place in the oven for 3 hours. 30 minutes before the end, take the lid off and brush with butter, or a little oil to crisp them up.

Take out the oven and rest/cool slightly whilst making the cabbage:

Slice the cabbage, pull apart the layers and place it in a sauce pan. Add the ingredients and bring to the boil. Put a lid on and simmer for 5-6 minutes until just done. MIx well and serve it up with a generous helping of the hotpot


Slab of crab pub grub

We stopped off at the Highlander Inn, Belsay on the way back from the Wallington Hall food festival (more on that tomorrow). Lovely pub.

I ordered the Lindisfarne crab salad and got this bad boy! Never been intimidated by salad before…

The crab was delicious, but my only reservation was that the salad needed a dressing (in my humble opinion). Beer was was too (Nel’s Best, thanks for asking).